Stress And Happiness

by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

Stress seems to be so prevalent in everyone’s life today – how many times do you hear it from your friends? How many times do you say it yourself?

We’ve learned that stress is a highly significant contributor to disease. The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2020, stress related disorders will be the second leading cause of disabilities in the world. Everything we know about stress – either real or perceived – acute or chronic affects your health. Stress changes the way your neurotransmitters relay information and your hormonal pathways. It is never too late to do something about stress – once you can look at your stress and come up with a plan minimize and reduce it – you may see an improvement in your overall health.

Women all experience stress in different ways

As women, we tend to have a nurturing response that can tend to put us in positions where we are trying to care for everyone but ourselves. There is a belief with some scientists that during times of stress this response may actually strengthen. The reasoning behind this theory stems from the evolutionary instinct women have to protect themselves and their offspring during times of stress.

Short term stress is the kind of stress we feel when we have a deadline – or when driving in hazardous road conditions. Symptoms of short term stress may include an increased heart rate, sleep disturbances, increased blood pressure, irritability, headaches or muscle tension, decreased memory, fuzzy thinking and poor eating habits.

Chronic or long term stress is stress that stays with us for months – or even years. We know that psychological stress disrupts blood sugar metabolism which can be a key factor in diabetes. Chronic stress also affects our immune systems and increases the risk for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism and allergies. Studies conducted in 2006 showed a direct correlation between stress and cardiovascular disease. In a recent study conducted with 58 women – those under high levels of stress showed an increase in oxidative stress and cellular aging!

I always urge women to look at the sources of their stress. While some of these sources might be difficult to admit, they are easy to recognize. Sometimes stress comes from a job you love but has changed, other times from a relationship. Long term stress can develop from experiences in our childhoods. The ACE – Adverse Childhood Event – Study (1998) showed that children who experienced adverse childhood events were more apt to have adverse health conditions or disease as adults. Some of the adverse childhood events which were reported are:

  •  Growing up with an alcoholic
  •  Growing up with a drug user
  •  Recurrent sexual, emotional or physical abuse
  •  Living with someone who was mentally chronically depressed or who was treated  violently
  •  If a child in some way was separated from a parent – through death, divorce, illness or  separation

Dealing with emotional stress is one piece of your happiness – but I know from years of practice that stress is a larger piece of our physical wellness than many people have considered.

Every woman has a different journey when getting to the root cause of her stress – and everyone resolves their stress differently. During this time its so important lessen the effects of stress on your body.

Here’s what I recommend to my patients:

Practice healthy eating! I suggest three meals and two snacks per day. The stress hormone cortisol is released when your blood sugar is low, so keep your body fueled well to lessen this stress. Choose good protein sources, lots of nutrient rich fruits and vegetables and high quality fats.

Create some relaxation practices. Whether you journal for fifteen minutes a day, walk for 30 or connect with a friend – find a time each day to relax. You may even want to try yoga, acupuncture or reiki. Whatever helps you quiet your parasympathetic nervous system is the right thing for you.

Consider taking a multivitamin. When you are under stress your body needs all the support you can give it! While we would like to think that we can get all our nutritional needs from the foods we eat, in this day and age its difficult. Close any gap you might have with a dietary supplement.

If you may want to explore uncovering deep seated emotional stress you may want to consider: psychotherapy, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or a fantastic program offered by the Hoffman Institute known as the Quadrinity Process.

While we all may experience stress every day in our lives, we don’t have to let it overpower us or prevent us from living the lives we want.

I know from personal experience that taking the time to lessen stress and resolve stressors in your life isn’t always easy. I also know from my own experience and from talking with women every day that it is well worth it. Take the time for you!